Study Shows Potential New Way to Detect Autism: SPECT Scans Can Be the Key

Autism Study SPECT Scan

Autism Accurately Diagnosed with Brain SPECT Imaging

Brain Blood Flow Shows Pattern Consistent with Autism

COSTA MESA, CA: The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) relies on history and behavioral observation, lacking reliable biomarkers. Researchers from Amen Clinics and the University of Southern California performed what is believed to be the largest ever analysis of brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans, a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity patterns, on 928 persons with ASD obtained 9 different sites to investigate whether these scans distinguish ASD from healthy controls. The age range of patients were from 13-67 years.

Using sophisticated machine learning algorithms, high levels of separation were obtained. The areas the most predicted ASD were found in the cerebellum, anterior cingulate gyrus, amygdala, frontal and temporal lobes.

Lead author Daniel Amen, MD, child psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics said, “Currently, the diagnosis of ASD includes a clinical history, mental status examination and structured screening tools, leaving clinicians in the dark as to the underlying physiology. At Amen Clinics, we frequently see increased activity in the anterior cingulate, leading to obsessive behavior, and decreases in the temporal lobes and cerebellum, which are often associated with learning issues.  Having SPECT scans on ASD patients has helped us better target treatment.”

This is the first brain SPECT imaging study demonstrating the use of machine learning methods to predict ASD from a healthy control (HC). These results add to the growing body of literature validating the use of machine learning approaches with functional neuroimaging data to improve prediction and classification of individuals with psychiatric disorders like autism.  Given the heterogeneity of ASD, this approach has important implications in the clinical setting in both the diagnosis, intervention and monitoring of treatment outcomes.

Due to the variability of the underlying brain function problems in ASD and the complicating factor of a high rate of co-existing disorders, SPECT brain imaging is extremely useful for revealing otherwise hidden information. This helps us select the best course of treatment for each person with the disorder.

ASD is a multi-faceted and misunderstood condition; Amen Clinics can help decipher the right treatments and protocols. If you would like to learn more, please visit us online or call 888-288-9834 today.


Amen DG (2017) Functional SPECT neuroimaging using machine learning algorithms distinguishes autism spectrum disorder from healthy subjects. J Syst Integr Neurosci 3: doi:10.15761/JSIN.1000160

Published: April 10, 2017


  1. If you’ve got the cash…

    Comment by Julie — May 3, 2017 @ 3:34 PM

  2. Since another recent study revealed high levels of aluminum in ASD teens that had died at relatively young ages, can SPECT imaging reveal the presence of heavy metals? Also, can SPECT imaging reveal changes in the blood-brain barrier? Just wondering.

    Comment by Toni — January 5, 2018 @ 4:10 AM

  3. why is it so….. expensive, make it available so many kids are suffering. Who has $4000 when the kids are young and insurance is not accepted. Do you have grant available to perform the test?

    Comment by mickey — January 5, 2018 @ 5:36 AM

  4. Which doctor in Amen Clinic specialized in Autism ? recommendation please…

    Comment by Richard — January 5, 2018 @ 6:35 AM

  5. People with autism have been known to have toxicity issues so the radioactive dye used with SPECT can be more difficult for those with autism to detoxify from their systems properly.

    Comment by David — January 6, 2018 @ 6:11 AM

  6. I would love to see replies to the questions asked & issues raised in the comments– they all good points/questions!

    Comment by Lawren — April 13, 2018 @ 5:41 AM

  7. South Carolina has recently imprisoned a 38 year old man 10 and 20 years, consecutively, for one count of solicitation. She was 14, and she actually solicited him online. He didn’t know how old she was. Her father took her phone to the police and the police contacted the man. The arresting officer asked if he had autism, and his response was “Yes, asperger’s syndrome”. State medical examiners have found this to be so, but the court has no accounting for the disability.
    Can the scan be helpful in determining ‘asperberger’s’? And, will their determination be acceptable in S.C. court?
    Thank you.
    C. Moore

    Comment by Mrs. Comell Moore — April 13, 2018 @ 7:29 AM

  8. Is it possible to refer someone for the Amen clinics ASD studies?

    Comment by Thomas H. — April 13, 2018 @ 10:26 AM

  9. Autism is not a psychiatric condition but is a social communication disorder! Autism folks can develop symptoms that warrant an additional label in psychiatric terms due to many factors-not the least of which is inadequate attachment to people early in life that can effect adulthood relationships. I have NVLD(nonverbal learning disability) that is on Autism Spectrum and not diagnosed until age 50. I earned 3 degrees from prestigous universities and have a verbal IQ of 140! Autism is about social communication. Can you imagine trying to navigate a world that is very nonverbal w/o the internal neurological structures for such exteriority exploration ? I have owned several successful businesses and had many relationships, though not necessarily in the social construct of conventionality- I am gender non-binary! I appreciate the work Dr Amen does, but please, dont overlabell Autism. Look more towards social parameters of difference and work towards life coaching at an early age.

    Comment by mike — April 14, 2018 @ 9:04 AM

  10. All this article is stating is that there are significant findings that indicate the ability of machines to predict autism alongside the ability of professionals. If you have spiritual beliefs that separate the idea of the social personality from activity found in the brain, you should recognize that this is a commonly accepted correlation, and this isn’t the right place to protest that.

    Comment by Kevin — April 19, 2018 @ 10:36 AM

  11. It’s new technology. The simplest computers used to cost $5 million. As technology improves, and early trendsetters invest in its use, I could see brain scans becoming as accessible to children as Ultrasounds are to pregnant women today. Getting insurance companies to jump on board is a matter of time.

    Comment by Kevin — April 19, 2018 @ 10:42 AM

  12. Maybe work on being able to bill our insurance for some of your services.
    Some of it should be allowable.

    Comment by Joyce Doull — April 20, 2018 @ 3:34 AM

  13. I wonder how many Autistic Children or Adults Amen Clinic has treated by using Spec Imaging and what their finding were.

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